It is a key driver of behavior, whether in markets (Fear & Greed), politics (Tribalism), Health care (Anti-Vaxxers) or whatever (FOMO).
Fear is a great memory aid. For most of human history, people communicated not via the written word, but by oral storytelling. Hence, we are primed for emotional, memorable narratives. Looking at data and performing cold, calculated analyses are a learned, not innate, skill.
Social media understands this. Is it any surprise the algorithms of Facebook surfaces the most extreme views and claims? Look at what plays directly into that evolutionary trait, via clickbait and manufactured outrage. With our perfect hindsight bias, isn’t it obvious how inevitable this was?
Irrational fear is a driver of much of what we think and do. Often reflexively, frequently without thought. Contemplate what this means as you process new pandemic information, relying on mental models, performing data analysis.
How often do we react to a headline we disagree with, but after diving into the data underneath, it changes our mind? Not often enough, but on those rare occasions when that happens, it is a sign that you are doing this correctly. Our first reaction is the thoughtless programmed emotional response; the second is the more complex analytical result. It is your lizard brain (basal ganglia and brainstem) versus developed frontal lobe (neocortex).
Which brings us back to Covid-19. The probability of anyone of person getting this disease and then suffering a fatality is exceedingly low. I don’t want to suggest things are statistically normal, and you should definitely do things to stay safe: wear masks, socially distance, wash your hands frequently, and not touch your face. You can be (relatively) safe by doing these simple things.
But excess fear is driving all sorts of negative consequences, including stress, psychoses, economic damage, relationship issues, and health problems. This is counter-productive.
One day, this pandemic will end. Then we can all go back to worrying about cholesterol, high blood pressure and sugar.